Sailing holidays in Croatia are an excellent opportunity to go on a scuba diving adventure and explore the many caves and wrecks as well as the rich underwater life along the country's coast and islands. While the Adriatic Sea does not have the dazzling reefs and exotic marine life of the tropics, it is nevertheless a great destination for diving and snorkelling. The waters off the coast are very clean and have excellent visibility, and there aren't any dangerous fish such as barracudas or sharks that would make diving a little too adventurous.
Like most Mediterranean destinations, Croatia offers a relaxed, enjoyable diving experience at numerous diving spots near some of the country’s best known cities and islands. Shipwrecks from both World Wars, wrecks more than 150 years old, tunnels and caves offering unworldly light spectacles, and a diverse sea life are among the top attractions that populate the waters off Croatia’s coast. Below are some of the country’s most popular dive sites.
The small island of Biševo, situated only 5 km southwest of the island of Vis, harbours ten grottos along its coastline. The best known of these is the Blue Grotto, a cave carved in the limestone on the island’s east coast, which can only be accessed by boat. Once described as more beautiful than its namesake on the island of Capri, the cave offers a spectacular sight in the summer months between the hours of 10 am and 1 pm, when sunlight hits its opening and is reflected from the limestone bottom floor, making the cave appear brilliant blue and objects in the water silver. The Blue Grotto is best experienced outside the peak season in July and August, when it gets the most visitors.
The UNESCO-protected city of Dubrovnik hosts a shipwreck which is a popular site among experienced divers. The Italian transport ship Taranto, which sank after hitting a mine in 1943, now lies at a depth of 10 m in the shallows to 52 m at its deepest. Leaning on a reef, the ship is now home to a number of cardinal fish, sea bass, lobsters and octopuses, and makes a fascinating dive site only a short distance from the Dubrovnik coast.
The island of Lokrum, which lies just opposite the Dubrovnik Old Town, is another popular spot for shipwreck enthusiasts. The wreck of SS Tomislav, which remains almost fully intact, is an interesting site to explore, with numerous tuna and dogfish to be seen in the surrounding area.
The small island of Premuda, which lies northwest of Zadar, hosts one of Croatia’s most popular diving spots. The Cathedral, which is not an actual cathedral, but a system of connected caves, is a spectacular natural sight. The caves let in sunlight through the porous ceiling, treating divers to an unreal light show often compared to a stained-glass window. The caves and a tunnel connected to the largest one offer a wealth of sights to explore, including corals, octopuses, spider crabs, amberjacks and other types of fish.
Experienced divers can also visit the wreck of the SMS Szent István, an Austro-Hungarian Tegetthoff-class dreadnought battleship which lies upside down at a depth of 66 m. The ship sank in 1918 after being hit by two torpedoes. The two holes are still visible at the ship’s side.
The island of Hvar, one of Croatia’s most popular tourist destinations, offers many underwater wonders to explore. These include more than 15 marked dive sites, most of them found around Pakleni islands, a small scenic archipelago just off the southwest coast of the island. The best dive sites near Hvar include Vodnjak, Vela Garška, Stambedar, Amphoras, the Poseidon Pillar and Baba reef.
The island of Vodnjak, situated on the west side of the Pakleni archipelago, has several dive spots. The best known one, Campanile, is an underwater crag shaped like a church tower that rises from a depth of 40 m all the way up to 15 m. It is covered in red gorgonians and, at a depth of 35 m, there is a tunnel that divers can swim through to experience more colours and shapes of the abundant sea life. Gorgonians can also be seen near the island of Stambedar and at Baba reef, a stunning underwater wall descending to 40 m, full of yellow and orange sponges, lobsters, scorpion fish and other colourful species.
The Vela Garška dive site is a wall about 70 m long and 30 m deep, situated in Vela Garška Bay on the southern coast of Hvar. The site has a beautiful underwater cave at a depth of only 5 m. The Poseidon Pillar is a rock that rises above the water and has an entryway at a depth of 30 m that allows divers to swim through a narrow chimney and emerge at a depth of 11 m. The holes in the ceiling let in rays of light, which create a mesmerizing play of light and shadow.
The Amphoras can be seen in front of a stone reef in the north of Hvar. The reef has a number of small caves, and a long field of amphoras that once belonged to a Greek ship can be explored at a depth from 12 m to 28 m.
The city of Pula makes an excellent base for exploring a number of impressive underwater sights. The Stoja dive site is popular for its stunning rock formations with caves, crevices and canyons with a wealth of underwater life. To the west of the city, there are two well-known wrecks: Varese, an Italian merchant ship that sank in 1915 after hitting a mine and has since been transformed into a reef, and the John Gilmour wreck, a steamship that also sank in 1915. The Flamingo wreck, a 40 m long wreck of an Austro-Hungarian torpedo boat that struck a mine in 1914, can be seen about 15 km south of Pula.